When I was a kid growing up on the fifties, the gender politics on guns was clear and complete: boys played with Daisy Red Ryders and girls played with dolls. Yea, yea, I know all about Annie Oakley, but if she had walked into a gun shop back in those days, nobody would have paid her any attention at all. Women didn't own guns, women didn't shoot guns, women had nothing to do with guns.
If you spend a few minutes on the NRA website, you would think that this part of the world has really changed. No matter where you look on the site, women are featured in videos about gun training, using guns, hunting with guns and, most of all, defending themselves with guns. The most visible of the bunch is Dana Loesch, whose diatribes extolling far-right political stances rank her as about the dumbest and most pandering online commentator since Sarah Palin went "rogue."
But when it comes to the extent to which women have become an important marketing segment for guns, leave it to the NSSF whose job it is to make up whatever nonsense has to be made up to convince America that everyone has or wants to own a gun. The NSSF has mounted an infographic on its website called GirlPower, which it tells viewers both to "take a look and share it far and wide." Which is exactly what I am now going to do, particularly since the NSSF claims that "the number of women hunters, target shooters and gun owners has increased dramatically since the start of the new millennium," thus making women "one of the fastest-growing segments of the shooting sports."
Here are the basic numbers which the NSSF uses to buttress their claims about this fastest-growing segment: Women hunters have increased from 1.8 to 3 million, and women target shooters have increased from 3.3 million to 5 million since 2001. And while the NSSF doesn't give a figure for the number of guns actually purchased by all these new female consumers (the importance of this data gap will be discussed below), they estimate that the gals spend an annual average of more than $1,000 for guns and firearm-related supplies.
Now these numbers would, in fact, indicate that the demographics of the gun market are changing except for one, little fact. What has really changed in the last twenty years is the degree to which women are moving into roles that were previously largely reserved for men. For example, in households where both partners are employed, women now contribute almost half the annual income, a number that has steadily increased over the last twenty years. Women also now control a majority of household spending decisions, as well as deciding basic family activities such as where to go and what to do on weekends and vacations -- duhhh, which happens to be times when the guys used to go hunting with other guys or out to the range.
This past week the online women's magazine Marie Claire published a lengthy article about women and guns. It is based primarily on a very detailed survey of gun owners conducted by the Harvard University Injury Control Research Center which designed an online survey that was answered by 5,000 gun-owning men and women living in every state. It is without question the most comprehensive study of gun-owning attitudes and behaviors ever conducted and its findings will not give aid or comfort to the gun industry's efforts to picture women as a new marketing frontier.
Because the truth is, according to this survey, that only 5 percent of females who identified themselves as either gun-owners or living in a gun-owning household purchased a gun in the last five years. So if all these women whom the NSSF claim are getting involved in shooting sports, they are doing it alongside a gun-owning man. Which means that women aren't drinking the Kool-Aid being served up by John Lott and Dana Loesch; they are joining a majority of Americans who don't like guns.